Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Now?

There are three phases of life that are impossible to be ready for no matter how much you prepare: When your oldest daughter graduates high school, when your oldest son gets his driver's license, and when your youngest son gets a mohawk which grows out into a mullet.

The pantry moth infestation phase can also catch you off guard; even more so than the flea, head lice, and cane spider infestation phases because, how much trouble could a moth get into in a pantry, anyway? You'll never know until it lays a bunch of eggs in that open bag of slivered almonds on your top shelf  and little maggots start dropping down on you from the ceiling during dinner.

Do you need a minute?

And then there's the death phase. You never see the death phase coming, ever. Even when you do.

You can never predict your reaction to the death phase either.

My Mt. Carmel grandma died on May 15th and I haven't blogged since. Whodda thought?

I 've been expecting her to die for years, but when I got word on my birthday that the time was close at hand, I hesitated. I mean the last time I heard a loved one was near the end, the end didn't come for 18 months.

The timing was also a little bit inconvenient, because my husband had given me a writing retreat for my birthday and I was at that very moment in a secret, undisclosed location, near the football stadium in Provo, writing about . . . I kid not . . . my grandma.

To go, or not to go. That was the question. Close my laptop, check out of my hotel, and hit the road, or stay and take the chance that my grandma could hang on until the weekend.

I decided not to second guess death, or ask him to work around my schedule, so I hit the road. But first I hit the grocery store to buy a watermelon--her favorite--and some drinkable yogurt to get me through the four hour drive ahead of me.

I arrived at 9:25 p.m. By that time all of my family had already come and gone, except my brother, Eric, who was sitting at the foot of the bed.

"I think she knows you're here," said my cousin, Emily. "Look how her fingertips are turning blue. I think this is it."

I humored Emily, but that's not the way things go down in real life. In real life I was going to sit by her bedside for two or three days and watch her suffer. Maybe I would help administer morphine and talk story about our good ol' summer days in Mt. Carmel. Eventually I would kiss her goodbye and return home to my family, where a few days--or weeks, or months--later, I would get the call that she had passed.

I took my grandma's hand and stroked her hair, which was clearly in a state of shock. A state of shock rivaled only by my own state of shock when, 10 minutes later, my grandma took her last breath and died.

10 minutes! That's one pit stop--a drive-thru at Burger King, or a refuel at Maverick, or a trip to buy cheese curd in Beaver.

I did none of these things. I just drove. And drank yogurt. And listened to Dave Matthews.

Did I just happen to make it before the last grain of sand slipped through my grandma's hour glass, or did death wait for me to arrive so he could properly introduce himself?

Whatever. I'm glad we finally met face to face, because I got to see his softer side. I found death to be kind and considerate. Peaceful and compassionate. Almost joyful. It's life that twists the knife and stands back as we squirm. Death steps in and say "Enough! I can't bear it anymore!"

I thought I would burst into tears--loud wailing sobs--after meeting death, but while you are in death's presence, the grief comes gradual. My grandma was gone, yet she was still there, lying in her pink house coat and white ankle socks with tennis rackets cross stitched on the cuff. She was still warm and soft when my aunt Elaine climbed into bed with her and gathered her up in her arms, and when my grandma's cat, Boo, curled up on her lap and tried to bite anyone who reached out to pet her.

When my dad died I didn't know what to do with myself. I wandered around the house, in and out of every room, up and down the stairs, over and over until I ended up in my mom's closet, where I finally understood why some people never want to come out of the closet. After my grandma died I tried on her dance shoes from high school and walked around like Cinderella. I chattered and giggled with my relatives. I did the dishes and cut the watermelon.

"Let's stay up all night in here and talk," said my aunt Elaine.

It was our way of hanging on the moment--the last moment before arrangements needed to be made and plans needed to be executed.

But then my grandma's body got stiff and my aunt Elaine got grumpy, and at 2 a.m. reality set in that someone needed to come to the house and cover my grandma with a blanket, place her on a stretcher and carry her out of the house for the last time--past the 110 year old family home at the end of Tait Lane where she was born out of wedlock in 1924.

I stood on my Aunt Elaine's front porch watching the car creep reverently away past the family home cloaked in utter darkness below us. I shuttered. This was it. The end of the story. I was living the last page. The last remaining family member to grow up in that house was at the corner intersect on a stretcher, waiting to turn onto the highway and drive away forever.

After she disappeared, the air hung heavily around the house and I held my breath.

What now?

My oldest daughter would graduate from high school, my oldest son would get his drivers license, and my youngest son would get a mohawk, which would grow out into a mullet.

And I would clean out my pantry.


It's good to be back. Thanks for waiting.